1. Hit Tony Romo Early and Often.
Coming off an impressive 13-3 season last year and a playoff victory the Tony Romo led Dallas Cowboys looked to make a deep playoff run this year. Injuries have plagued the Cowboys entire season, and they have failed to win any games without Tony Romo at the helm. With the division still technically still mathematically possible for the Cowboys to win the return of Romo comes with much anticipation and pressure. The Miami Dolphins defensive line needs to ruin his homecoming party with pressure and hits on the returning QB early and often. Last year when Ndamukong Suh and the Lions played Dallas in the playoffs they were able to sack Tony Romo 6 times 2 of those sacks were by Suh. The Dolphins must make Romo uncomfortable in the pocket and test his physical state. Coming off an injury that has kept you from the field for 8 weeks it is impossible to prepare yourself for the physicality and endurance of an NFL game the Dolphins need to remind Romo with early hits and pressures to shake his confidence. The Dolphins' secondary has struggled all season and there are few passing connections more lethal in the NFL than Tony Romo to Dez Bryant so Romo cannot have time to find Bryant if the Dolphins want to contain this offense. The Cowboys do have a strong offensive line so blitzing from both the linebackers and the secondary will be necessary to apply constant pressure. Romo is historically good against the blitz but coming off an injury his rhythm and connection with his receivers will not be in midseason form and he will have to hold the ball longer than normal. If the Dolphins are able to apply pressure not only will it prevent Romo from returning to his MVP candidate self, but it could also lead to turnovers whether it be strip sacks or interceptions. Romo does have a history of both and if the Dolphins can make that version of Romo materialize on Sunday they have a great shot of coming away with a W. The Dolphin defense was able to apply pressure last week against Sam Bradford which was a huge impact on the outcome of the game. The Dolphins had 4 sacks and made both Bradford and Sanchez uncomfortable in the pocket all day and they need to keep up that effort against the Cowboys.
2. NO MORE SAFETIES (Mental Errors)
I wrote extensively on this topic in my keys to the game last week but yet again the Dolphins yielded another safety last week. The Dolphins have given up a safety in 3 consecutive games they are the first team to do so since 1980. Although this weeks safety Ryan Tannehill at least had the ball in his hands and it was not a miscommunication with the center it was still the result of two stupid mental errors. The first being Damien Williams receiving the kickoff 8 yards deep in the end zone fumbling the catch then proceeding to try to run the ball out of the end zone only to fall on the one yard line giving the Dolphin offense the worst starting field position possible. Taking the kickoff out of the back of the end zone is never the smart decision especially when you do not catch the kick cleanly and I would be surprised if Williams is not replaced by a veteran this week fielding kickoffs. The second error was Tannehill needed to recognize the nickel corner showing blitz before the snap. Eagle corner Walter Thurmond lined up on the blindside of Tannehill clearly in a rushing stance ready to come off the edge, and Tannehill did not adjust his protection and left Thurmond completely unaccounted for and unblocked. Thurmond rushed untouched off the edge and clobbered the unsuspecting Tannehill and the ball flew into the back of the end zone yet again. Many Dolphin fans have wondered how a team that is so talented has a sub five hundred record and mental errors like those are exactly how. Overall the Dolphins have progressed as the season has gone on and things are starting to click but avoidable disastrous plays like that still haunt this team. Against a team as talented and hungry as the Cowboys who are in a desperate need for a win costly mental errors must be avoided. Tannehill must out duel Tony Romo not only on the field but between the ears. He has been in the league too long not to adjust his protection on the goal line and he needs to take that next step as a leader and be the commander of this offense. The Dolphins have been one of the best team on paper since the offseason and have too often gotten in their own way and lost to teams they physically should dominate. Offense, defense, and special teams need to have clean, mistake-free, and efficient performances and allow their playmakers to make plays and make the Cowboys beat them not mental errors.